Back to School on a Budget

Modern Mom and Humorist Lian Dolan on how to keep your wallet (and sanity) intact.

The new pencil boxes are here! The new pencil boxes are here! And not just pencil boxes but cute jeans! Smart phones! Solar-powered backpacks! No wonder it’s easy to spend too much during the annual back‐to‐school shopping blitz. To help you cut the chaos (and the price tag), I got tips from real moms and dug deep into my own playbook.

“SHOP” AT HOME FIRST

Money saved is money earned.  Dig through desk drawers and closets and you’ll probably discover half of the items on your list: colored pencils, crayons, books from older siblings, forgotten articles of clothing. Throw last year’s backpack in the washer, add some cool patches from your summer travels and voilà, new backpack!  

SET A BUDGET  

This is the obvious, most important , not always easy defense against back-to-school overspending. For older tweens and teens, you might hand over a set amount for clothing or new electronics and let them choose how to spend it. One full-price item or several sale items? Skimp on clothes and splurge on a bag? Refurbished versus new?  Sue, the mother of a daughter, uses this method. You’d be surprised at how thrifty a teen can be when it’s his or her own money.


DETERMINE NEEDS VERSUS WANTS

Colleen, a mother of two, asks this: Even if you had all the money in the world, does your daughter really need $250 jeans? Teach your kids that the idea is to buy what they truly need, not what they simply want. Spending wisely and eliminating wasteful purchases is an Earth‐friendly, family‐friendly policy.  Use this shopping experience to establish good, lifelong financial habits. And don’t forget: Be a role model!
 
DELAY, DELAY, DELAY

Wait to buy those “gotta have it” purchases for a month, and the desire might just disappear. Ask your child: Do you need a new sweater today, when you won’t be able to wear it for months? How about asking for the new phone for your birthday instead of for back-to-school?  
 
DON’T NEGOTIATE

Your budget is firm. Do not allow your kid any wheeling and dealing at the checkout line, advises Meg, the mother of a teen.  If you’re afraid you might cave, leave your credit card at home and shop with cash. And no IOUs. If your daughter or son promises to “pay half” for more expensive items, don’t agree unless he or she has the money on hand. 

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